I’ve been reading Bruce Schneier for more than a decade now, so very little of Joel Johnson’s piece, President Obama, It’s Time To Fire the TSA, is news to me. The more interesting question to me is, is there any reasonable path to changing how we think about security? Schneier hammers the TSA repeatedly for protecting against tactics that have been used previously rather than trying to think more systematically about the shape of future threats, but given human nature, it’s not surprising that we handle things that way.
The canonical example of security theater is the requirement that everyone remove their shoes before passing through security. We all know why that rule exists — Richard Reid tried to blow up an airplane with a bomb in his shoe on December 22, 2001 (yes, we’ve been removing our shoes at the airport for 8 years). There’s nothing special about secreting a small bomb in your shoe. As we learned this week, you can stuff a bomb into your underwear just as easily. But imagine the political casualties if someone were to blow up an airplane with a shoe bomb now. The opposition and the media would crucify everyone they could get their hands on for not protecting against a tactic we know that the terrorists use.
In fact, if a politician even tried to stop the shoe removal process, they would be attacked for not taking terrorism seriously. Many of us wish for more political courage from our politicians, but the incentives of every political system serve to diminish political courage and to cull out the truly courageous as quickly as possible. So I’m all for firing the TSA and restoring sanity to airport security, but I’m not optimistic that it’ll happen.